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In linguistics or usage, hypercorrection is a non-standard usage that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of grammar or a usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes that the form is correct through misunderstanding of these rules, often combined with a desire to appear formal or educated.[1][2]

Linguistic hypercorrection occurs when a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be "correct" leads to an incorrect result. It does not occur when a speaker follows "a natural speech instinct", according to Otto Jespersen and Robert J. Menner.[3]

Hypercorrection is sometimes found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism.[4]


Studies in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics have noted the over-application of rules of phonology, syntax, or morphology, resulting either from different rules in varieties of the same language or second-language learning. An example of a common hypercorrection based on application of the rules of a second-language is the use of octopi for the plural of octopus in English; this is based on the faulty assumption that octopus is a second declension word of Latin origin when in fact it is third declension and comes from Greek.[5]

Sociolinguists often note hypercorrection in terms of pronunciation (phonology). For example, William Labov noted that all of the English speakers he studied in New York City in the 1960s tended to pronounce words such as hard as rhotic (pronouncing the "R" as /hɑːrd/ rather than /hɑːd/) more often when speaking carefully. Furthermore, middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than working class speakers did. However, lower-middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than upper-middle class speakers. Labov suggested that these lower-middle class speakers were attempting to emulate the pronunciation of upper-middle class speakers, but were actually over-producing the very noticeable R-sound.[6]

A common source of hypercorrection in the morphology and syntax of English is the use of pronouns; see the section Personal pronouns, below.[4]

Hypercorrection can also occur when learners of a second or foreign language try to avoid applying grammatical rules from their native language to the new language (a situation known as language transfer). The effect can occur, for example, when a student of a new language has learned that certain sounds of his or her original language must usually be replaced by another in the studied language, but has not learned when not to replace them.[7]

Hypercorrect usage[edit]

Hypercorrection is not particular to English. It can occur wherever multiple languages or language varieties are in contact.


English has no authoritative body governing "correct" usage, unlike some other languages, such as Arabic (مجمع اللغة العربية), French (Académie française and Office québécois de la langue française), Italian (Accademia della Crusca), Icelandic (Íslensk málstöð), and Spanish (Real Academia Española). Nonetheless, within groups of users of English, certain usages are considered unduly elaborate adherences to "formal" rules.

Such speech or writing is sometimes called hyperurbanism, defined by Kingsley Amis as an "indulged desire to be posher than posh".

Personal pronouns[edit]

Jack Lynch, assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, says that correction of "me and you" to "you and I" as subject leads people to "internalize the rule that 'you and I' is somehow more proper, and they end up using it in places where they should not – such as 'he gave it to you and I' when it should be 'he gave it to you and me.'"[8]

On the other hand, the linguists Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum claim that utterances such as "They invited Sandy and I" are "heard constantly in the conversation of people whose status as speakers of Standard English is clear"; and that "Those who condemn it simply assume that the case of a pronoun in a coordination must be the same as when it stands alone. Actual usage is in conflict with this assumption."[9]


Some British accents, such as Cockney, drop the initial "h" from words, e.g. have becomes 'ave. A hypercorrection associated with this is H-adding, adding an "h" to a word which would not normally have an initial "h". An example of this can be found in the speech of the character Parker in Thunderbirds, e.g. "We'll 'ave the h'aristocrats 'ere soon" (from the episode "Vault of Death"). Parker's speech was based on a real person the creators encountered at a restaurant in Cookham.[10]

Another example is from British author Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, where Adrian Mole is discussing with a security guard when he is about to offer his latest literary work for review. The security guard replies: "H'or h'are you the next Poet Laureate? H'and h'if you h'are, may I h'offer you my h'utmost congratulations?"


Hyperforeignism arises from speakers misidentifying the distribution of a pattern found in loanwords and extending it to other environments. The result of this process does not reflect the rules of either language.[11] For example, habanero is sometimes pronounced as though it were spelled ⟨habañero⟩, in imitation of other Spanish words like jalapeño and piñata.[12]

English as a second language[edit]

Some English-Spanish cognates primarily differ by beginning with "s" vs. "es", such as the English word "spectacular" and the Spanish word "espectacular". A native Spanish speaker may conscientiously hypercorrect for the word "establish" by writing or saying "stablish", which is archaic.[13]


In Cantonese, some speakers omit the initial [ŋ]. For instance, the character (Jyutping: ngaa4, meaning "tooth"), ends up being pronounced "aa4". Prescriptivists tend to consider these changes as substandard and denounce them for being "lazy sounds" (Chinese: 懶音; Jyutping: laan5 jam1). However, in a case of hypercorrection, some speakers have started pronouncing words that should have a null initial using an initial [ŋ], even though according to historical Chinese phonology, only words with light tones (which correspond to tones 4, 5, and 6 in Jyutping) had voiced initials (which includes [ŋ]). Because of this hypercorrection, words such as (Jyutping: oi3, meaning "love"), which has a dark tone, are pronounced by speakers with an [ŋ] initial, "ngoi3".

Idiomatically, some words such as 溝 (/kɐu˥/ 'communication') have evolved to the sound /kʰɐu˥/ to avoid embarrassment, because 㞗 /kɐu˥/ is a vulgar word in Cantonese, but some speakers insist on pronouncing /kɐu˥/ and it may cause ridicule. Words with dark tones (1, 2, and 3 in Jyutping) historically should have unaspirated or null initials.

Speakers of some Mandarin dialects, particularly in the south of China and in Taiwan, pronounce the retroflex initials [tʂ], [tʂʰ] and [ʂ] as the alveolar initials [ts], [tsʰ], and [s]. Such speakers may hypercorrect by pronouncing words that should start with [ts], [tsʰ] and [s] as if they started with their retroflex counterparts.

In Taiwan, under the influence of Taiwanese (Min Nan), many people pronounce the initial [f] as [xw], and often hypercorrect by pronouncing the initial [xw] as [f]. This is also noticeable in the Hakka population, where many words that begin in [x] in Mandarin and Taiwanese begin in [f] in Hakka. (Examples: , )

Erhua hypercorrection may occur among non-native speakers of rhotic Chinese.


In standard Bulgarian and in the eastern dialects, the old yat letter is pronounced as я ("ya") when stressed and the following syllable does not contain the vowels и ("i") or е ("e"), and pronounced as е in all other cases. But in the western dialects it is always pronounced as е. Attempting to speak the standard Bulgarian dialect, some speakers from Western Bulgaria mispronounce many words containing the yat letter – голями ("golyami"), желязни ("zhelyazni"), бяли ("byali"), видяли ("vidyali"), спряни ("spryani"), живяли ("zhivyali") instead of големи ("golemi"), железни ("zhelezni"), бели ("beli"), видели ("videli"), спрени ("spreni"), живели ("zhiveli"). This trend is especially common with past participles such as видяли.



Russian speakers sometimes palatalize consonants in loanwords that had never been palatized (as [mɐˈdʲern] instead of [mɐˈdɛrn] for модерн) under the influence of the spelling. Russian has five so-called hard vowels (а, э, ы, у, о), which follow hard or unpalatized consonants, each with a corresponding soft vowel (я, е, и, ю, ё respectively), which follow soft or palatized consonants. However, the hard vowel э has orthographic limits allowing it to be written only at the beginning of a word or after a vowel (as in the Cyrillic spelling of Aeroflot). So in many loanwords, the soft vowel e is written but read as if it were э.


The syllables je and ije appear in the western standard of Serbo-Croatian (spoken in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and south-western parts of Serbia) where the eastern standard (spoken in most of Serbia) has only variation in quantity (length of the vowel) of e. Not every eastern standard e becomes je or ije like in the western. Eastern standard speakers may hypercorrect their dialect by either undersupplying or oversupplying the jes and the ijes.

Accusative vs. locative[edit]

As locative case is rarely used in colloquial usage in southern and eastern dialects of Serbia, and accusative is used instead, speakers tend to overcorrect when using the language in more formal occasions, thus using locative even when accusative should be used (typically, when indicating direction rather than location): "Izlazim na kolovozu" instead of "izlazim na kolovoz".[14]


Dialect versus Standard German[edit]

In German, the accent spoken in the cities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and its surroundings heavily features the front 'ch' sound (aka the "ich sound", [ç]) where standard German calls for the 'sch' [ʃ] sound. Speakers with this accent would say 'Fich' [fɪç] instead of 'Fisch' [fɪʃ] (fish), and 'Tich' [tɪç] instead of 'Tisch' [tɪʃ] (table). This is due to a hypercorrection of the Rhineland dialect prevalent in that area of Germany, an accent that often replaces the front 'ch' [ç] sound with the 'sch' [ʃ] sound ("ich" [iç] => "isch" [ɪʃ]). Attempting to avoid this error, speakers of the Ripuarian language accent hypercorrect it to an abundance of 'ch' [ç].[citation needed]

Genitive versus dative[edit]

Another example is use of the genitive case where the dative case is required. Colloquially, the genitive is often dropped in favor of the dative even if correct grammatical usage demands the genitive. Because language critics deride such substitution, some German speakers use the genitive even with prepositions that actually demand the dative (e.g., entgegen, gegenüber), seemingly under the false impression that the genitive is always right and the dative is always wrong, or at least that the genitive is a better form than the dative.


As the /w/-sound does not exist in Norwegian, Norwegians speaking English often produce [v] for /w/. Sometimes such speakers hypercorrect by pronouncing [w] for /v/ as well as /w/, pronouncing a word such as "vexed" as [wɛkst].[15]

Dutch versus West Flemish[edit]

The West Flemish dialects do not use the Dutch "ch" /x/ (Northern Dutch pronunciation) or /ç/ (Southern Dutch pronunciation). Instead they pronounce both 'g' and 'ch' as a soft 'h', whereas the Standard Dutch way to pronounce it would respectively in /ç/ and /ʝ/ in Southern Dutch or both /x/ in Northern Dutch. For example, a West-Fleming would pronounce the phrase 'een gouden hart' (a golden heart) as 'een Houden hart'. Some older people, who grew up speaking nothing but their dialect, are unaware that there is a difference between 'g', 'ch' and 'h' altogether and trying to 'mimic' Dutch, they often overcompensate and pronounce every word they would normally pronounce with a 'h'-sound as a 'g'. This includes words actually pronounced 'h'. In the example above, they would go overboard and pronounce the phrase 'een gouden hart' as 'een gouden Gart'.

A popular joke illustrates this phenomenon. It concerns a pastor of a West Flemish church, who wants to impress his flock by celebrating mass in flawless, 'civilized' AN Dutch. His 'civilized' Dutch consists of pronouncing a 'ch' and 'g' as the Northern Dutch /ç/ (instead of the 'h' as West-Flemish dialect does). However to be absolutely sure, he also pronounces the 'h' as /ç/ even though he should continue pronouncing it as a 'h'. The results are as follows; instead of praying for "De hele kerk" (the whole church) he ends up praying for "de gele kerk" (the yellow church) and "de heilige maagd" (the holy virgin) becomes "de geilige maagd" (the horny virgin). Finally, he ends his sermon in asking what should be "de goede hulp van de Heer" (the good help of the Lord). Instead he asks for "de goede gulp van de geer" (the good zip of the gusset).[citation needed]


In the Middle Ages, the spelling of Latin was simplified in various respects: for example, æ and oe became e, and ch became c. Occasionally these changes were reversed, and e and c were sometimes expanded to æ (or oe) and ch, even when such spelling contradicted Classical Latin. For example, caelum was contracted to celum and re-expanded to coelum. These spellings are often preserved in English derivatives, including et cætera and et coetera (occasionally found as variants for et cetera); the British and international English foetus (originally fetus, as it is currently spelled in American English).

Hebrew and Yiddish[edit]

Careful Hebrew speakers are taught to avoid the colloquial pronunciation of בדיוק (bediyyuq, "exactly") as [biˑ.ˈdjuk]. Many speakers accordingly pronounce להיות (lihyot, "to be") as if it were spelled "lehiyyot" ([lɛˑ.hiˑ.ˈjot]), but there is no grammatical justification for doing so.

The vowel qamatz gadol, which in the accepted Sephardic pronunciation is rendered as /aː/, becomes /ɔ/ in Ashkenazi Hebrew (and therefore in Yiddish). On the other hand, the vowel qamatz qatan, which is visually indistinguishable from qamatz gadol, is rendered as /o/ in both pronunciations. This leads to hypercorrections in both directions.

  1. The consistent pronunciation of all forms of qamatz as /a/, disregarding qatan and hataf forms, could be seen as a hypercorrection when Hebrew speakers of Ashkenazic origin attempt to pronounce Sephardic Hebrew (e.g. צָהֳרָיִם, "midday" as "tzaharayim", rather than "tzohorayim" as in standard Israeli pronunciation; the traditional Sephardi pronunciation is "tzahorayim"). This may, however, be an example of oversimplification rather than of hypercorrection.
  2. Conversely, many older British Jews consider it more colloquial and "down-home" to say "Shobbes", "cholla" and "motza", though the vowel in these words is in fact a patach, which is rendered as /a/ in both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Hebrew.

Other hypercorrections occur when speakers of Israeli (based on Sephardic) Hebrew attempt to pronounce Ashkenazi Hebrew, for example for religious purposes. The month of Shevat (שבט) is mistakenly pronounced "Shvas", as if it were spelled *שְׁבַת. In an attempt to imitate Polish and Lithuanian dialects, qamatz (both gadol and qatan), which would normally be pronounced [ɔ], is hypercorrected to the pronunciation of holam, [ɔj], rendering גדול ("large") as goydl and ברוך ("blessed") as boyrukh.


In some Spanish dialects, final intervocalic /d/ ([ð]) is dropped, such as in pescado (fish), which would typically be pronounced [pesˈkaðo] but can be manifested as [pesˈkao] dialectically. Speakers sensitive to this variation may insert a /d/ intervocalically into a word without such a consonant, such as in the case of bacalao (cod), correctly pronounced [bakaˈlao] but occasionally hypercorrected to [bakaˈlaðo].[16]

The same holds true for speakers with seseo, who pronounce the letters "z" and soft "c" as [s], who find themselves in parts of Spain that pronounce them as [θ] (distinción), sometimes hypercorrect all instances of "s" as [θ] (ceceo).

In some Spanish dialects, especially in the Caribbean, /s/ is debuccalized at the end of syllables to [h], or sometimes elided completely, so pescado is [pehˈkaðo] or [peˈkaðo]. As a result, speakers from these areas may add the [s] sound to words which do not contain the letter s.


In Hungarian the suffix -ban/ben indicates location, such as "házban" (in the house), while -ba/be indicates direction, such as "házba" (in(to) the house). Speakers of some regional dialects or rural speakers often use the latter, shorter forms for both cases: "a házba vagyok" (incorrect: I'm in(to) the house). This mistake is often perceived as lower quality or uneducated speech. To avoid this perception, some people make the opposite mistake, using the first form everywhere, such as in the incorrect sentence "a házban megyek" (I go in the house). This effect can be observed most often in public speeches of politicians, religious figures, etc.

A similar mistake affects old intransitive verbs, which in old Hungarian had a distinct system of conjugation (the so-called "ikes" conjugation, referring to the "-ik" suffix in third-person singular). Among others, this system requires the use of a suffix "-m" instead of "-k" in first person (e.g. "eszem" instead of "*eszek", for "I eat"). This conjugation is now only preserved in parts, most of which are rapidly fading out of use. However, due to prescriptivist pressure, some Hungarian speakers incorrectly use -m suffixes on all verbs ending in "-ik", not just old intransitive ones (e.g. "*kapaszkodom" instead of "kapaszkodok", for "I hold on"). The "-ik" suffix is also sometimes mistakenly applied to verbs that normally do not end in it, causing the verb robban "to explode" to turn into *robbanik.


As the voiced consonants "b", "d" and "g" are very rare in native Finnish words, some Finns tend to emphasise them in foreign words, more than should be necessary. For example, Finns might say *bedagogiikka instead of pedagogiikka ("pedagogy"), *brobleema instead of probleema ("problem"), or *psygologia instead of psykologia ("psychology"). Another form of hypercorrection is emphasised avoidance of pronouncing the diphthong "ie" as "ia", which occurs in some Finnish dialects, leading to mispronouncing the word piano ("piano") as *pieno.


One example of hypercorrection in the Polish language is the "adoption" of coleslaw (itself stemming from a Dutch term) by adding accents that seem to be simulating the Polish name Bolesław. This can be explained by only some English sounds in foreign names entering the Polish mass lingual consciousness: for example, cola is almost never pronounced with a [ts] sound, as would Polish language rules dictate the letter "c" to be pronounced, yet "leggings" are often pronounced the same way the word "jeans" is (ledżinsy).

Other common examples of hypercorrection in Polish include nasal pronunciation of terminal ę, as in rękę (correctly [-ɛ] and hypercorrectly [-ɛ᷉]) or hypercorrect pronunciation of voiced consonants instead of voiceless ones (jabłko pronounced as [ʝabʊłko] instead of [ʝapłko] or [ʝapko]).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press. 
  2. ^ Sociolinguistic Patterns, William Labov, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972, p 126
  3. ^ Menner, Robert J. (1937). "Hypercorrect forms in American English". American Speech. 12 (3): 167–78. JSTOR 452423. 
  4. ^ a b "hypercorrection". Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster. 1994. ISBN 978-0-87779-132-4. 
  5. ^ Kory Stamper. Ask the editor: octopus. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Social Stratification of English in New York City (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006 [1966]. ISBN 978-0-521-52805-4. 
  7. ^ Interlanguage Phonology Sources of L2 Pronunciation "Errors", by Michael Carey
  8. ^ "March 11, 2004 – Hypercorrection", www.voanews.com, 12 March 2004.
  9. ^ Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005; ISBN 0-521-61288-8), 107.
  10. ^ "David Graham site". Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Wells, John Christopher (1982). Accents of English: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 108. ISBN 0-521-29719-2. 
  12. ^ www.merriam-webster.com: habanero (variant spelling)
  13. ^ Thom Huebner; Charles A. Ferguson (1 January 1991). Crosscurrents in Second Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theories. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 124–. ISBN 90-272-2463-3. 
  14. ^ Boban Arsenijević. "Burek koji se može poneti". 
  15. ^ Andreassen, Helene N.; Herry-Bénit, Nadine; Kamiyama, Takeki; Lacoste, Véronique (12 August 2015). The ICE-IPAC project: Testing the protocol on Norwegian and French learners of English (PDF). Workshop on Phonetic Learner Corpora: Satellite workshop of the XVIIIth ICPhS. Retrieved 28 August 2016. 
  16. ^ Penny, Ralph (2000). Variation and Change in Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78045-4. 


  • Labov, William. 1966. "Hypercorrection by the Lower Middle Class as a Factor in Linguistic Change". In Sociolinguistics: Proceedings of the UCLA Sociolinguistics Conference, 1964. William Bright, ed. Pp. 84–113. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Joshua Blau, On Pseudo-Corrections in Some Semitic Languages. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 1970.